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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Meetings to be held on pipeline proposal

SUPERIOR - A Canadian pipeline company has scheduled a series of meetings to discuss plans of building a pipeline from North Dakota to Wisconsin. Enbridge Energy proposes to build a 2.5 million dollar crude oil line that would transport 225,000 barrels of oil per day. The line would travel 610 miles, from western North Dakota’s rich oil grounds to Superior, Wisconsin. The only meeting in Wisconsin took place today in Superior. The project is scheduled for completion in 2016. Seven other public meetings are planned throughout Minnesota and North Dakota


Good news continues for the state’s housing market. The Wisconsin Realtors Association reports that existing home sales went up in July by 17-point-three percent. Median home prices also went up in the state by nine-percent in the same month. A spokesperson with the WRA says concerns of home prices going up with the slight increase in mortgage rates, averaging just over four-percent, were factors in the July numbers. Job numbers and the improving economy were also factors. The WRA says there’s a good indication those trends will continue through the rest of 2013.


The highest-paid state government employee is David Villa, the chief officer for the State Investment Board. Gannett Wisconsin Media reviewed state salaries, and found that Villa will make over 800-thousand dollars this year. That includes a base salary of $413,000 – plus a bonus of $421,000 because the public retirement fund he oversees has exceeded expectations for earnings. An administration database shows that 27-of-the-50 highest state government salaries belong to Investment Board employees. The board handles $94-billion in assets, mostly for the state’s public employee retirement system that covers all state, local government, and public school workers except for the city-and-county of Milwaukee. Board spokeswoman Vicki Hearing said her agency gave out eight-million dollars in bonuses this year, based on the retirement fund’s performance. This year’s total was almost twice the bonuses granted in 2012. Those salaries fluctuate greatly. Four of the Investment Board’s 10 highest-paid employees saw their before-tax-income drop by $80,000 or more in 2012, compared to the previous year. Among the state’s elected officials, Governor Scott Walker made the most at $144,000 dollars. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen made just under $140,000. State lawmakers had their salaries unchanged at just under $50,000 – not including travel and per-diem expenses for food-and-lodging while in Madison.


The Canadian National Railway began work early today to complete a replacement of its 1899-era bridge over the Fox River in Oshkosh. There’s a 120-hour maintenance window to replace the bridge span, culminating nearly two years of work on the structure. It will create a wider channel for boats to pass through, while increasing speeds for rail traffic through Oshkosh. The new bridge span will be a bascule-style lift structure, replacing a swing span that’s 114 years old. Rail traffic is either being detoured or staged during the project. Boat traffic will be halted at the mouth of the Fox River into Lake Winnebago through Friday while the project is completed. 


There’s no way that principals and superintendents can control everything on-and-off school property. That’s what Milwaukee Federal Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said, when he threw out a lawsuit from a mother who said her son put up with months of bullying in Fond du Lac in 2011. The woman sued Saint Mary’s Springs Academy, alleging that her son was given racial slurs, unwanted touches, teasing, harassment on Facebook, and slurs over his perceived sexual orientation. In a 23-page ruling, Stadtmueller rejected the lawsuit’s basic claims – that Springs violated two sections of the U.S. Civil Rights Act for not stopping the bullies. The judge said he empathized with the youngster and his mother. But he said there were so many disputed claims, he was reluctant to step in against the school – especially because children made so many of the observations. Stadtmueller said the plaintiff’s son made disparaging remarks and aggressive actions as well. He wrote, quote, “Certain children will always say and do nasty things to one another. Try as they might, school officials will not be able to stop this, even if courts were to begin holding schools liable when their students engaged in reprehensible behavior. No matter how many judgments courts may hand out, the often cruel nature of children will still prevail over newly-propagated rules and instructions.” 


The prosecution is expected to rest this week in the trial of Nidal Hasan. He’s the Army psychologist who admits killing two Wisconsin soldiers and 11 others at Fort Hood, Texas. The 42-year-old Hasan has said very little during his military trial this month, except to say he was the shooter in the 2009 rampage. Amy Krueger of Kiel and Russell Saeger of Mount Pleasant were among those killed. Hasan is acting as his own attorney, defending himself against 13 charges of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. He has said he would call himself and two other witnesses. If he testifies, Hasan is expected to discuss a religious justification. He said last week he was acting to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan from the U.S. military. Hasan said he was part of an effort to quote, “establish the perfect religion” – and he apologizes for the mistakes he made in that endeavor. In a letter to a Texas newspaper, Hasan wrote that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are illegal, and his actions defended others as well as Islam. Captain Dorothy Carskadon of Madison, one of the six surviving Wisconsinites injured at Fort Hood, she said first believed the shootings were part of a military exercise. All the Wisconsin troops were members of a Madison unit training to go to Afghanistan and help other soldiers deal with stress and personal problems.


Wisconsin employers would no longer be able to peek into the private parts of their employees’ social media accounts, under a bill that’s up for a public hearing tomorrow. The state Senate’s Labor Committee will take testimony on a bill making it illegal for companies to ask for passwords for Facebook and other social media accounts of their employees and job applicants. The bill has support from lawmakers in both parties. An Assembly panel heard testimony in May. There’s a chance that both houses could vote on the measure as early as next month. Fourteen states have laws against asking employees, students, and applicants to provide social media passwords. 


Lyme disease is about 10 times more common than what’s reported. That’s what the U-S Centers for Disease Control said today after it surveyed seven national labs, reviewed insurance data, and questioned thousands of patients. According to preliminary figures at a conference in Boston, the CDC estimates that 300,000 cases of tick-borne Lyme occur each year in the U-S. Until now, about 30-thousand cases have been reported per year. The disease is named after the town where it was first detected – Lyme, Connecticut – in 1975. In Wisconsin, the Marshfield Clinic’s Medical Research Foundation was the first to study it. Wisconsin officials reported more than 23-thousand confirmed cases from 1980-through-2010. Doctor Paul Mead, who tracks Lyme disease for the CDC, says the new national study gives doctors a fuller picture of the disorder – and quote, “It’s not a pleasing one.” Lyme disease often looks like a bull’s eye around a tick bite. Most people easily recover with antibiotics – but Lyme can cause arthritis and more severe health problems if left untreated. Most Lyme cases are reported in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and 11 states in the northeastern U.S. 


A man found dead in a parked car in Madison reportedly spent six years in prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Relatives told the Wisconsin State Journal that the body of 49-year-old Forest Shomberg was discovered Friday. That was just 11 days after he left prison for firing a bullet into the ground in his front yard, after he decided at the last second not to commit suicide. Shomberg was wrongly convicted in the sexual assault of a UW-Madison student in 2002. Authorities said the victim was pulled off a street and was groped in a violent manner before she broke free. DNA evidence in 2009 determined that the wrong man was sent to prison. The State Claims Board was asked to compensate Shomberg for just over 102-thousand dollars. In June, a judge ruled that the Claims Board did not investigate Shomberg’s innocence before rejecting the claim. Surviving relatives say they’ll continue to press Shomberg’s claim. 


Environmentalists are not happy with Minnesota’s decision to delay making freighters on the Great Lakes take new steps to treat their ballast water. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said last week it would delay the new mandate by two years, saying the required technology probably won’t be available until 2018. Darrell Gerber of the Clean Water Action group says there’s a large amount of federal and state money being spent on this and quote, “We do really need to kick that up, and get that technology out there.” Gerber says any delays open the door for invasive species to get into Lake Superior and spread from there.


Thirteen criminal suspects have joined a federal lawsuit which claims that Milwaukee Police violated their civil rights. Five new plaintiffs – all men – are the latest to accuse police of illegally strip-searching them, and digging into their body cavities to look for evidence. One of the plaintiffs, Keon Canada, said he was pulled over five times in 2011. He said he was subjected to anal-cheek searches four times, and had the front of his pants opened another time – and no drugs were found in any of those searches. Another plaintiff said he was stopped-and-searched three times in 24 hours during the summer of 2011. Former Milwaukee Police officer Michael Vagnini was the main target of a criminal action against the reported strip searches. He pleaded no contest to eight charges. Numerous sexual assault counts were dropped in a plea deal. Vagnini was sentenced to 26 months in prison, and was let go by the Milwaukee Police Department.